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Katie Redford - Wish You Weren’t Here Interview

Wish You Weren’t Here is a hilarious and heart-warming exploration of family relationships, the agony of growing up, and how to find your way in the world when you can’t help thinking you’re just not good enough.

Katie Redford

This joyous comedy about beaches, bonding and body image is written by
Katie Redford (TAPPED, Theatre503; YELLOW LIPS, BBC Radio 4) and will star Olivia Pentelow (Ridley, ITV) making her professional stage debut as Mila, joined by Eleanor Henderson (Little Scratch, Hampstead Theatre/New Diorama; Henry V, The Globe) in the role of Lorna. Directed by Rob Watt (Human Nurture, UK Tour; Birds and Bees, UK Tour) and co-produced by Theatre Centre and Sheffield Theatres, this world premiere production has been created in conversation with hundreds of young people across the country as part of Theatre Centre’s acclaimed Future Makers process.

We caught up with writer Katie Redford to discuss the show in more detail. 

What inspired you to write Wish You Weren’t Here? 
The themes and topics within the play were inspired by conversations and discussions I’d heard whilst visiting a variety of secondary schools across the UK, as part of my time as writer in residence with Theatre Centre. The play is set in Scarborough, where me and my family would go on holiday every year, so my own memories of family holidays played a vital part in it too.
How did you approach telling this story and developing the piece?
Initially, I had an idea about a family holiday going horribly wrong. There's something about holidays that bring huge levels of expectation; everyone must have a lovely time, everyone must get on, everyone must enjoy every second. Also, being on holiday makes it much harder to escape. I wanted to create two characters who despite being close, just weren't hearing each other and were trying to cover up the cracks with seasides and fairgrounds and ice cream, as opposed to facing up to their issues. The idea was commissioned by Sheffield Theatres and Theatre Centre. From that point, we continued with more workshops, this time working with both Lewisham Youth Theatre and the National Youth Theatre, whilst also working with other artists, exploring various topics in the play. Through further workshopping, I started to get more of a concrete idea of who these characters were, their world and what the story was. 
You’ve talked about how collaborative this experience has been for you, how do you reflect on your time working on it to date?
Speaking to as many students as we did and hearing their opinions about the way in which they see the world has been such an insightful way to develop a script. It forces you to get out of your bubble and see things from a completely different viewpoint. To have access to so many voices I never usually would have has been creatively really fulfilling.  

However, I did freak myself out during the early stages of the process. I remember one workshop, there was a lot of chat about video games and I remember thinking 'but i dont want to write about video games...!' I had no idea how I was going to write a play that would appeal to both school students and mainstream audiences, whilst also being able to connect with it myself.  But my brilliant director Rob kept reminding me to trust the process, which I struggled with as it was one I'd never experienced, but he was absolutely right. 

Eleanor Henderson as Lorna and Olivia Pentelow as Mila. Photo by Chris Saunders

How do you think life has changed with how people approach things such as body image or self belief which are a couple of the themes in the show?
I think social media has impacted these themes hugely, both positively and negatively. Nowadays, 'beauty standards' are shoved in our face much more now that everything is available on a screen that we carry around with us all day, along with algorithms, creating content of what we consume. Everywhere we look, there are constant reminders to 'be better.' We have to be so careful with the way we use it, because we sometimes don’t realise how much we’re subconsciously soaking up. When I was a teenager, I'd walk into a shop and see a magazine cover where a woman's thighs had been circled and been labelled 'fat'. For the woman in the image, how horribly damning would that have felt? And it's horrendous that it's still happening. But back then, I as the consumer, at least had the choice not to buy it, (despite still consuming it) whereas now, social media makes everything so accessible; we see something without even meaning to. We're also much more available to others. If someone wants to tell us they don't like our legs, they might comment on a photo. However, there's also been some really positive changes. During my time visiting schools, there were so many more conversations being had about acceptance and self belief - more than we'd ever had when I was at school. And I do think we're generally more aware of the toxic messages re body image fed to us via the media. There are also some brilliant instagram accounts that are spreading wonderful, healthy messages about embracing who you are as opposed to what dress size you are. 
How did you approach making these themes still fit into a comedy?
I didn’t really think about it as a conscious choice. I wanted to create two women who despite being naturally flawed, were also very sharp and dry witted. Comedy is within everything I think. There are some really serious themes within the piece such as consent, racial discrimination, grief and the agony of growing up, but that doesn't mean there can't be laughter. Even throughout our darkest times, there’s usually always something funny to be found. It’s what gets us through. 
At what point do you feel your work is complete as a writer on a piece?
There’s something very complete about seeing it published!
What keeps you inspired as a creative?
The bits that aren't being shown on instagram. Real life. The goodness of people. Especially with the horrendous events happening in the world at the minute, I find myself clinging on to the goodness of humanity. The stuff that warms the soul and connects us.
What do you hope an audience member takes away from seeing Wish You Weren’t Here? 
That everyone's just trying their best. And to never fully believe what you see on social media. I also hope, if they can, that they give their mum/ child / mate a hug.

Wish You Weren’t Here plays at Sheffield Theatres Playhouse until Saturday 10th February. Tickets are available from The show then plays at Northern Stage on 15th and 16th February, at Soho Theatre from 19th February until 2nd March, at Brighton Dome on 7th and 8th March and at Yvonne Arnaud on 14th and 15th March. 
You can find out more details about the show at

Olivia Pentelow as Mila and Eleanor Henderson as Lorna. Photo by Chris Saunders

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